Duke-Butler: Better than any movie
Angelo Pizzo, who penned the movie "Hoosiers," couldn't have written a better script on Monday night.
The Butler-Duke championship game had drama, tension and emotion. Both teams played with such passion: They played their hearts out!
In the end, Duke got its fourth national championship, winning a 61-59 thriller, the closest title game since 1989.
Both teams really executed on the defensive end. There were very few open looks, a minimum number of easy baskets.
My friends, Butler is a very good team. Those kids are tough and very well-coached.
I was truly impressed with the Bulldogs and their perimeter defense. They really extended out on Duke's 3-point shooters, really closed in on them. Their game plan revolved around denying Jon Scheyer open trifecta attempts. The idea was to make him go inside, and it worked well in the first half.
The Bulldogs' defense also forces opponents into making a lot of passes, taking time off of the clock and making the game shorter, leading to fewer possessions and lower scores. Duke had its third-lowest offensive production of the season!
Butler hung in and even had a chance to win. If Gordon Hayward's 3-pointer at the buzzer had gone in, there would have been bedlam in Indianapolis.
The real-life drama felt like heroes versus villains because the hometown fans in Indy cast the Blue Devils in that bad-guy role. It was supposed to be Donald Trump and Duke against the Butler mom-and-pop store.
I can't say enough about coach Brad Stevens' club. The program is looked at as a mid-major because of its budget, but this was a preseason top-10 team that fell just one basket short of a national title.
Butler was better than I thought, and we will hear from this team again next season. Stevens has to be so proud of his team. This performance will inspire and motivate kids chasing dreams everywhere. The Bulldogs players should feel special.
Krzyzewski told me earlier this season that this Duke team was not his most talented.
When you think about it, Coach K has had a number of talented squads. Back in 1986, there was my colleague at ESPN, Jay Bilas, along with Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Mark Alarie, David Henderson and Danny Ferry. The early '90s saw Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill in the Blue Devils' lineup. In 2001, the national champion Blue Devils had the likes of Jason Williams, Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy leading the way.
This year's Duke team played great as a unit. Yes, the trio of Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith was special. But center Brian Zoubek really stepped up in mid-February against Maryland with 17 rebounds and 16 points. He developed into a vital member of the club, dominating the glass.
Of all his teams, Krzyzewski said he felt this team came the closest to reaching its full potential. Teamwork on both ends of the floor was evident all season long: making the extra pass to get players open looks, defending with passion and emotion, switching on screens and working hard.
Duke embodies the word T-E-A-M: T for togetherness, E for effort, A for attitude and M for mental toughness. I saw this Blue Devils club get better and better, really improving throughout the ACC tournament and the Big Dance.
On Monday night, Duke reached its goal of a national championship. Nolan Smith made history, becoming part of just the third father-son tandem to win national titles. Smith's dad, Derek, won it all with Louisville in 1980. The Bibbys (Henry with UCLA, Mike with Arizona) and the Mays (Scott with Indiana, Sean with North Carolina) also accomplished that feat.
Coach K joined elite company, too. He won his fourth national championship, joining John Wooden (10) and Adolph Rupp (four) as the only two to accomplish that feat.
Seeing this dramatic game unfold in front of my eyes, all I can say is, "WOW!"
Congratulations to two great teams that put on a show to remember -- better than a movie because it was the real deal, baby!
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